The Pursuit of God

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Gentle & Quiet: The Ideal Wife According to Peter

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Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Pet. 3:1-6)

Whenever we’re reading the words of humans, we need to read with caution. What we call the Bible is a collection of documents written by various men over a span of hundreds of years. None of these men were perfect. Like us today, their beliefs about God were tainted by cultural superstitions and biases. For example, Peter lived in a male-dominated society. He was taught from the cradle that he was the superior sex. God disagrees, of course, but we have to cut Peter and all of his fellow Jews slack in this area because we humans believe what our parents teach us. Those of us who have been blessed not to grow up in a culture which views most people as subhuman lowlifes will have a hard time appreciating what it was like for these New Testament Jewish men to comprehend all of the radical changes that Yahweh’s New Covenant introduced.

Yahweh has never been anti-women, but many women today think He is because of certain laws He laid down under the Old Covenant. Here is where we need to remember that God works with each of us within the context of our cultural framework. The Hebrew slaves that Yahweh hauled out into the wilderness back in Exodus were already entrenched in a belief that men were the superior gender. It’s important to realize that Yahweh was working within a context of pre-existing prejudices when He drafted His first laws. When we don’t understand this, we think Yahweh was the One who taught Jewish men to view women like chattel. No, He wasn’t. We only need to flip back to Genesis to find evidence of women being treated inferior long before the Old Covenant even began.

Stick a man and a woman together in a room and someone is going to emerge as the dominant party. It’s only natural that men take the dominant role in society because they have the superior physical strength. A man can easily force a woman to be subservient to him using physical force and a woman will comply in order to avoid pain. We use this same principle of physical domination when we are disciplining our children. The only reason spanking works is because you do it when you’re still in a position to physically dominate your child. When used properly, wielding the advantage of superior physical strength can result in some wonderful blessings. When parents who are listening to the Holy Spirit spank at the appropriate times, their kids reap a lifelong harvest of self-control, respect for authority, and inner peace. But when we are not listening to God and we let our carnal flesh dictate the way we use our physical superiority, we end up as abusive jerks.

Now before we make women out to be the helpless victims of bullying brutes, let’s remember that both genders are equally depraved. What women lack in muscle, they make up for in cunning. According to the written laws of ancient Jewish society, women looked miserably oppressed. But when we actually read through the accounts of what happened in that society, we find a very different story. God has evened the playing field by building weaknesses into both genders. Men need a lot more sex than women do. Men also have a much lower tolerance for being verbally harangued. Suddenly we find hordes of women who are using the weapons of sex and endless griping in order to get men to do what they want. Why do we find Jewish men constantly jumping in the sack with idol worshiping women throughout the Old Testament? Because women are masters at manipulating men by their sex drives. If women were supposed to be so oppressed in ancient Middle Eastern societies, why do we find Jewish men always converting to the religion of their wives and running their homes according to their wives’ preferences instead of the other way around? At the end of his own book, we find a very frustrated Nehemiah recording the following discovery:

Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. (Neh. 13:23-24)

Nehemiah served as governor over post-exile Judah and he spent many years working hard to start a spiritual revival among his fellow Jews. The problem was that no matter how many reforms Nehemiah made, as soon as he would leave, the Jewish men would all go running off to marry idol worshiping women again. Then they would convert to their wives’ religions and raise their children according to their wives’ cultures. Nehemiah is shocked when he discovers Jewish men have so fully converted over to the cultures of their foreign wives that they aren’t even bothering to teach their kids Hebrew. Such is the power of bartering with sex and constant griping: women know how to get what they want.

Evidence of women dominating men is found throughout the Old Testament. It was a bunch of sexy babes who lured King Solomon away from Yahweh and talked him into spending a ton of money and resources to build shrines to idol gods all throughout his kingdom. It was in order to appease griping Sarah that Abraham agreed to drive his firstborn son out into a desert to die. It was the prophetess Deborah who ruled her region of Israel in Judges and had streams of men and women coming to her for advice. It’s a king’s mother who is credited for the words of Proverbs 31, and it’s sexy Rachel that we find lovesick Jacob working seven years for in Genesis.

We’re all so tangled up in carnality down here that if Yahweh put social equality before spiritual maturity, we’d all end up in Hell. Happily for us, our Gods meet us where we are at, and we’re all in a mess of delusional thinking. Rather than point out all of the errors in our thinking, They just lead us towards Them one step at a time. As long as we stay focused on Them, we’ll keep improving. But when we turn our eyes off of Them and start pretending some guy like Peter is a wellspring of flawless wisdom, then we get into a mess. You’ve got your own delusions, and so does Peter. When you aren’t open to the idea that Peter isn’t perfect, you only end up adding his foolishness to your own, and that lands you in an even bigger mess.

In the New Testament, we find Jewish men dashing off some advice for how women ought to behave in and out of the home. Because many foolish leaders in the Church today teach us to treat men like Peter and Paul as stand-ins for the magnificent Holy Spirit, many Christian women end up feeling distressed and condemned by passages like 1 Peter 3:1-6. But there’s no need for this. Peter was just a human, and every human’s thinking is flawed to some degree. Every New Testament epistle has some good and bad teaching in it. We need to recognize this and then look to the Holy Spirit to help us determine what to keep and what to ignore. Let’s now go through Peter’s thoughts line by line to see what we can glean from this passage.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet. 3:1-2)

Christianity is rapidly gaining new converts at this time, and suddenly there are a lot of marriages in which only one spouse is believing in Jesus. This always makes for an unpleasant situation and Peter is trying to address this issue here. What should a Christian woman do if her Jewish husband is refusing to align with Yahweh’s New Covenant? We need to remember that under the Old Covenant, Yahweh said the worship of any god other than Him deserved immediate execution. So this isn’t a case of “I like chocolate, but my husband likes vanilla.” When Christians stop with the “God is three-in-one” idiocy and recognize that the New Covenant demands the worship of three Gods (Yahweh, Jesus & the Holy Spirit), suddenly we can see why dedicated followers of Judaism would be enormously offended by Christianity. Peter is specifically speaking to Jewish women here, and it’s safe to assume that most of them were married to Jewish men who would consider themselves to be followers of Judaism. So these women are in an awkward spot. What is Peter’s solution? He tells them to try and win their husbands over with their good behavior.

So how does a male-dominated society define “good behavior” when it comes to women? Well, as the inferior sex, women were supposed to play a subservient role in the home. Peter takes it to ridiculous extremes by telling women to submit to their husbands “in the same way” as Jesus submitted to His executioners. Let’s back up a few verses to see the comparison he’s making:

When they hurled their insults at Christ, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Yahweh who judges justly. “He Himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by His wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to Yahweh, the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet. 2:23-3:2)

Don’t let chapter headings distract you—there were no chapter and verse numbers in Peter’s original letter. He is intentionally comparing unbelieving Jewish husbands to the wayward nation of Israel. We can sum up his logic like this:

“For years, we Jews strayed far from Yahweh. Then He sent Jesus to bring us all back into alignment with Him. Remember how Jesus handled His persecutions: He didn’t fight back. He didn’t try to stop the people who assaulted Him. Instead, He put Himself in Yahweh’s hands and trusted that Yahweh would support Him. Look at what Christ’s submissive obedience to Yahweh has accomplished: so many of us Jews have now returned to obedience. In the same way, you women can win your husbands back to Yahweh by following Christ’s example of submissive obedience.”

Now there is definitely merit to this argument. In the first place, God is the One who makes His will happen in this world, not us. In the second place, you can’t coerce someone else into submitting to God. So if Jewish women go home and start nagging their husbands about converting to Christianity, is that going to be productive? No. It’s a basic principle of human nature that we will buck against anyone who tries to control us. In any area of disagreement between you and your spouse, coercion is only going to make things worse. A man can physically force his wife to comply with some of his wishes, but she’ll only end up hating him for it. A woman can nag her husband into giving her what she wants, but she’ll only be tearing down her own house. We all know there’s a big difference between just going through motions and doing something with heartfelt agreement. Do you want your man to buy you flowers on your anniversary just to turn off your griping or do you want him to buy you flowers voluntarily because he sincerely wants to bless you? We all want the heartfelt version. Sex is much more enjoyable when everyone is into it than when one person is just putting up with it. Coercion brings out the worst in all of us, and Peter is right to steer women away from this road. He also makes a valid point that it costs to be a follower of Christ in this world. If your husband isn’t giving you flak in the home, other followers of Judaism are going to get on your case outside of the home because to them you look like the ultimate traitor. Peter says the best chance women have to win their non-Christian spouses over is to prove over time that believing in Jesus isn’t making them anti-Yahweh. He reminds women that Jesus led Jews back to Yahweh through His obedience. Perhaps women can have the same success with their husbands if they follow Christ’s example.

Now as nice as this theory sounds, it’s not based on reality. Prior to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus was anything but submissive. He was constantly slandering the preachers and teachers of His day. He was constantly going out of His way to start fights and scandalize the Jews. He intentionally provoked Old Covenant believers into wanting to kill Him. Peter knows this better than most, since he was up close to Jesus for three years. So it’s utterly absurd for Peter to make Jesus out like some passive lay down who never made waves. If we really want to imitate Jesus, we’d march into church on Sunday mornings and start railing about what idiots our preachers are and what an idolatrous yuck the Church is today. This is what Jesus did in His day. He ripped on the highly respected preachers of His time and He was constantly taking potshots at Yahweh’s chosen people. He’d march into synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem and start firing off offensive zingers. He’d seek out the company of unclean people, touch them, then refuse to go present the sacrifices that Yahweh required to fix His unclean state. Jesus was an obnoxious, alpha personality who had no use for diplomacy and basic social manners. So when Peter says “be like Christ”, he is really telling women to “be like the Christ I just invented, because if you act like the real Christ, obviously that’s going to create problems.”

To try and define Jesus by how He behaved during His crucifixion ordeal is ridiculous. We can’t just ignore three years of obnoxious scene-making and say, “Look, Jesus didn’t talk back when they were whipping Him. What a docile Fellow He was.” Yet this is what Peter and many Christians today try to do. For some reason we have this burning need to tone Jesus down and completely misrepresent Him as “sweet, meek and mild.” What’s sweet, meek and mild about Jesus showcasing Himself as ultra-awesome in the book of Revelation? What’s humble about Jesus creating scenes of all of Heaven constantly falling down before Him and shouting out endless praise about how magnificent He is? Humility is for humans, not Gods. Our Creators are not humble, and They are certainly not mild. They can be very sweet when They want to be, but They can also rain down terror and wrath. We need to call Peter out on the game he’s playing here because it’s one that leads us into all kinds of messes. When we make up lies about who Christ really is and how He behaves, we start trying to imitate a God who doesn’t exist.

So far the best point Peter has made is that coercion isn’t a good way to handle spiritual differences between spouses. His attempt to tie Christ into it doesn’t work because he grossly misrepresents who Christ is. He will now continue on to describe his idea of the ideal wife:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

Clearly Peter likes a quiet woman. So does Paul, and this isn’t hard to fathom since both of these men were alpha personalities. As a general rule, alphas don’t want to marry other alphas. They want to dominate and lead in their personal relationships, and they are attracted to personalities who make this easy. But while Peter wants his women to be subtle and quiet, he forgets that God loves variety. Look around this world and you’ll discover that both genders display a wide variety of temperaments. This isn’t a flaw, it’s how God wants it. So whenever we go down the road of saying variety is bad by preaching there is only one “ideal” temperament, we’re losing sight of truth. Certainly there are right and wrong attitudes, but the terms “gentleness” and “quietness” are being used here to describe personality traits. Do you want to hear a bunch of flutes sound the call to battle? No, you want trumpets. But when it comes to adding ambiance to that romantic evening dinner, are you going to choose soft piano music or a collection of military marches? Loud and soft both have their place. Followers want leaders and leaders want followers. God has created a wonderful array of temperaments that are meant to complement and enhance each other. But in the New Testament we’ll find Peter and Paul both talking like God expects every woman to jam herself into the same mold of a quiet, submissive follower. No, He really doesn’t. These men are letting their personal preferences taint their view of God’s preferences. God loves variety. Quiet and submissive is fantastic, but so is bold and take charge.

Now because we humans are such a self-centered lot, we often fall into the trap of preaching that our view is the only right view. Then we get so caught up in defending the superiority of our own way of thinking that we don’t even recognize how ridiculous some of our supporting arguments are. Peter has already reinvented who Christ was in an effort to make his personal preferences sound God-ordained. He’s told women that if they act submissive and quiet, they’ll be imitating Christ. What a crock, but these are the games we play when we’re trying to promote our own agendas. Now that he’s sold us on a phony image of Christ, Peter figures he can rewrite the Old Testament as well:

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Pet. 3:5-6)

Sarah? Who is Peter kidding? Sarah was the one who threw a hissy fit when her slave Hagar got pregnant by Abraham. No doubt Sarah was green with envy that Hagar was able to conceive while Sarah had been carrying around the intense shame of infertility her whole life. It’s more than a little humiliating to be the queen of a rich household and yet be unable to produce an heir. Then your Egyptian slave girl gets pregnant and you have to sit there for nine months watching her stomach growing larger. Now her child is going to be viewed as better than yours, if you ever have one. The relationship between Sarah and Hagar was destroyed by the fertility issue, and when Sarah wanted to murder her rival, she harangued Abraham into giving her her way. She even went so far as to try and sick God against Abraham by using “the power of the spoken word” which was highly so revered in her culture.

You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering! I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” (Gen. 16:5)

How can we possibly hold Sarah up as some great model of submission? Because she called her husband “lord”? So what? The Jews called everyone “lord”—it was an extremely common title of respect that often had no heartfelt sentiment associated with it. Men called each other “lord.” They called Baal “lord”. They called Yahweh “Lord”. So let’s not read too much into this “lord” title. Today Americans use titles like “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, but it doesn’t mean we have enormous respect for the people we address in this manner. It’s just a cultural custom.

They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Pet. 3:5-6)

So should you be calling your husband “lord” today? It depends what the word means to you. If you live in England, you might view the terms “Lord” and “Lady” as mere titles of respect. But if you live in America and the term “Lord” is reserved in your mind as a reference to God, then why on earth would you use it to refer to some created being? We must remember that God is ragingly jealous. So when we find Paul saying:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Eph. 5:22)

we need to realize the man is putting out idolatrous rot. Women, you should never be putting a created being in the same class as God in your minds. Men, that goes for you as well: you should not be trying to serve or love your wives to the same degree that you serve and love your Gods. The created and uncreated must be treated very differently. We should be giving ourselves wholeheartedly to our Creators and only to our Creators. We worship our Gods. We do not worship our spouses. We should be willing to do anything for our Gods. We need to maintain boundaries and be ready to say “no” when our spouses make inappropriate requests of us. You need to be very guarded whenever the New Testament apostles start handing out the marital advice, because much of what they say on the topic of gender relations is going to send you down some very wrong roads.

Is it wrong for ladies to adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry? Both Peter and Paul will speak negatively of these things, but Peter and Paul aren’t going to be your judges in eternity. What does God think? He looks on the heart. Why are you wearing the makeup and the jewelry? To show off? To tempt men into sexual sins? To make other women feel inferior to you? To try and compensate for your low self-esteem? Or are you just having fun playing around with colors and styles? God has wired some women to really enjoy the cosmetics and the bling. Some of us are attracted to large rocks and gaudy necklaces, and it has nothing to do with trying to flaunt our riches in other people’s faces. We just like lots of sparkle. Fine. Let’s not create moral issues where none exist. If you like dressing plain and skipping the hassle of jewelry and make up, then be who you are. If you love dressing up and playing around with different fashions, then go with it. God doesn’t want us walking around half-naked and acting like prostitutes who are looking for new clients. God wants us to respect the weakness of the male gender and do our part to help our brothers walk the line of moral purity. It doesn’t mean you have to go around in a tent, but you shouldn’t be thrusting your chest and butt in every man’s face, either.

When it comes to physical appearance, each woman needs to be following the Holy Spirit’s leading in her own life. When it comes to personalities and temperaments, we could all use to do some maturing. The New Testament apostles fall into the classic trap of teaching that harmony is the result of us all trying to become clones of one culture’s idea of “the ideal woman”. No, harmony is the result of each individual soul following the convictions of the Holy Spirit in their own life. God isn’t going to tell you to try and live up to Peter’s ideal woman or Paul’s ideal woman or your present culture’s version of the ideal woman. God is going to tell you to seek His wisdom in life and trust Him to guide you down the path that is most pleasing to Him. God is also going to tell you to expect Him to lead you down a different road than He leads someone else down because He loves variety. He doesn’t want all women to look or act the same. He wants a rainbow of temperaments and styles complementing and enhancing each other as each individual sets her mind on pleasing Him first. So when Peter tries to tell you what is “of great worth in God’s sight,” don’t just take his word for it. Ask the Holy Spirit to educate you on the subject of His preferences and leave room for Him to surprise you. Remember that this is the same God who came up with all those strange looking fish in the sea, all those crazy looking bugs and all those wild looking plants. God loves variety.

FURTHER READING:
Boundaries in Marriage: Inappropriate Submission
Clothes, Makeup & Jewelry: Guidance for Christian Women
Godly Submission: Guidance for Alpha Women

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